Saturday 7 February 2015

The Cairnwell Munro's - Carn Aosda, Carn a'Gheoidh and The Cairnwell

Setting off from the Ski Centre at Glen Shee in winter was a bit if an eye opener. Despite arriving quite early in the day, it really was quite busy...

We pulled off the A93 just north of the main car parks and joined the throngs making their way to the ski centre. Rafie got a few funny looks - I don't expect they see many dogs heading toward the ski runs!

Glen Shee Ski Centre

East over Glen Shee from the ascent of Carn Aosda

We trudged through the masses waiting for equipment and around the queue's for the ski lifts. We thought we would save time by making a bee line for the start of our ascent up Carn Aosda, our first Munro of the day. This though, took us over an invisible dip in the ground and left us floundering in thigh deep snow - after a slightly embarrassing extrication, we stuck to the beaten track (literally!).

Rafe and Jim - ascent of Carn Aosda

Once passed the queues we were alone on the snowy hillside - the ski runs of Carn Aosda were not in favour today. Initially we stuck to the edge of the run, but the snow was deeper and much harder going. Since there was absolutely nobody on the run, we moved away from the snow fence and it was much better going.

Glen Shee and The Cairnwell from the ascent of Carn Aosda

Carn Aosda has the reputation for being the easiest Munro of them all, being one of the smallest (917m) and having a start point at the ski centre of over 600m. The summit really did look pretty close...

But it was fairly steep and somewhat slippery - time to don the crampons...

A skier came swooping down the run past us, with a cheery "morning" - with his dog ( a lovely spaniel) almost flying behind him.

Views north from the summit of Carn Aosda (Munro 278, 917m)

Once we were spiked up, it really didnt take much doing to get to the top. The views were breathtaking - and so was the wind. We had been nicely sheltered as we ascended, but a biting, icy northerly hit us with a vengeance as we neared the summit - Carn Aosda (Munro 278, 917m).

The view took in the whole of the Mhonaidh Ruaidh - serried ranks of  frozen hills as far as the eye could see - and that was quite a way.

The Cairnwell and Glen Shee from Carn Aosda

Most of the snow has been blown off the plateau, so our crampons were stowed away again before we headed off towards our next objective - Carn a'Gheoidh. This involved skirting south west around the bowl in the hills containing the ski centre - lots of little toy skiers were swinging up the slopes on the ski lifts and sweeping back down again - it didn't look very real.

The Cairnwell, Cairnwell North Top and Creag a'Choire Dhirich from descent from Carn Aosda 

Once away from the ski slopes, the walk took on a more wild and remote feel - we were alone in the snowy wastes!

Loch Vrotachan was frozen over - only just discernible due to it being completely flat.

Looking back (east) to Carn Aosda

A frozen Loch Vrotachan from ascent to Creag a'Choire Dhirich

Jim and Rafe ascend Creag a'Choire Dhirich

The going was pretty good - not too much snow and even once we were passed the low point (sh 808m) there wasn't too much in the way of ascent.

But it was really windy in the bealach - Jim's hat (a rather expensive and still new hat) made a bid for freedom, taking off in the deneral direction of The Cairnwell. Jim made a brief attempt at catching it, but it laughed at him and disappeared over the hillside, never to be seen again! Luckily Jim had a spare - it really would have been an issue if he hadn't.

Once onto the wide ridge of Creag a'Choire Dhirich, we had wonderful views into the frosty wilderness of Choire Dhirich.

On Creag a'Choire Dhirich with views to Carn a'Gheoidh

The Cairnwell and Choire Dhirich - south from Creag a'Choire Dhirich

We marched south west across the icy tundra (!). We met a couple of other walkers, but apart from muffled "hello"s and comments on the weather, it really wasn't conducive to stopping for a nice chat.

We bypassed Carn nan Sac, making a beeline for Carn a'Gheoidh across The Coolah, a wide wind blasted plateau. 

The slopes of Carn nan Sac - views to Carn a'Gheoidh

Jim and Rafe on the ascent of Carn a'Gheoidh

Carn a'Gheoidh summit (Munro 180, 975m) - views north

Carn a'Gheoidh soon loomed ahead - not too much in the way of ascent, but it looked like there was more in the way of snow to negotiate. 

There was - and it was pretty hard stuff. As it was a bit more sheltered (it felt positively balmy compared with out on The Coolah) we thought we'd do a spot of step cutting. There's nothing like a bit of ice axe swinging to warm the blood...

We were soon at the top, Carn a'Gheoidh (Munro 180, 975m), highest point of the day beside the frozen cairn. A few monochrome pictures were taken and we were soon on the move again.

Jim and Rafe cross The Coolah with views to Carn nan Sac

Carn nan Sac summit (920m) - Views Carn Aosda

We followed our little icy steps back down the slippery slope and made good time across the frigid plateau...

And picked up Carn nan Sac (920m) on the way back - mainly because Rafie had spied another cairn on the summit and taken himself off (as he always does) to be the first on the highest point! We couldn't let Rafe be the only one to bag it.

Ptarmigan on Carn nan Sac

Carn nan Sac East Top - views south east

And we were glad we did - the weather had calmed and cleared a bit - we had some of the best views of the day from the East summit (NO121768). A couple of ptarmigan popped out of the rocks to check out what we were up to - in full winter finery.

Carn Aosda and Creag a'Choire Dhirich from Carn nan Sac

We retraced our route back over Creag a'Choire Dhirich, eventually finding a place amongst the rocks, out of the wind for some lunch - we were definitely ready for a hot drink!

Choire Dhirich and Carn nan Sac

Back across the bealach above Choire Dhirich the wind was still howling, funnelled up to a speed that made walking difficult, we were glad to pick up a track which kept us below the ridge leading to The Cairnwell (our final Munro of the day), rather than up on the tops...

Ascent of The Cairnwell

Much of the snow had been blown away here and the ascent was gradual, the going easier...

West to Carn nan Sac from ascent of The Cairnwell

We came out on the summit ridge just south of the top of the ski tow (NO135775) - the communication masts and associated buildings and paraphernalia clearly in view.

Jim and Rafe on the ascent of The Cairnwell

Obviously, there were rather more people about here!

Views west from ascent of The Cairnwell

...But nobody else making for the summit.

Nearing The Cairnwell summit

It was further than it looked and the path was icy and slippery - hard going - bit we were soon at the summt - The Cairnwell (Munro 245, 933m).

Views south down Glen Shee from The Cairnwell

But the views from the top were marvellous (with our backs to the masts!). These are definitely winter hills - they would look despoiled without the snow!

The Cairnwell summit (Munro 245, 933m)

We descended back to the top of the first ski tow and turned right - this was one of the quickest descents ever. We plunged through knee deep snow along the side of the ski tow - Rafie bounding ahead, throwing snow in the air. Great fun!!!

We were soon back in the real world. We took one look at the ski centre cafe and decided against it - far too many people!

The car was warm, and a wonderful drive north through the Cairngorms lay ahead.

Rafe and Jim - Carn Aosda (left) and Glenshee Ski Centre
from the descent from The Cairnwell

Route:  Glenshee Ski Centre (NO139784), N through ski centre buildings and past octaganol ski cafe, N up piste next to most easterly ski tow to summit, Carn Aosda (Munro 278, 917m), W then SW along ski fence to sh 795m, path S then W to bealach (sh 808m), ascend Creag a'Choire Dhirich, SW along ridge, contour W round summit of Carn nan Sac, The Coolah, ascend to Carn a'Gheoidh (Munro 180, 975m), return to The Coolah, Carn nan Sac (920m), return along Creag a'Choire Dhirich to bealach (sh 808m), rough path below (E) of Cairnwell summit ridge to bealach between The Cairnwell North Top and The Cairnwell (NO135775), The Cairnwell (Munro 245, 933m), return N to bealach, Cairnwell NorthTop (873m), E down ski piste to Glenshee Ski Centre and start.

Statistics:  Ascent: 600m  Distance: 12km  Time: 5.15hours

Map:  OS Explorer 387 (Glen Shee & Breamar)

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